Recently when my husband and I were visiting our son we spent a pleasurable afternoon in the Seattle Art Museum. They have a wonderful collection. In anticipation of my upcoming trip to the Hudson River Valley, I paid particular attention to the pioneering examples of American landscape painting produced by the brotherhood of painters known collectively as the Hudson River School. I wonder if it is too much to expect the same congenial and spirit-filled views of the region’s peace and plenty when visiting the real thing!
I really felt at home in the museum when I encountered two monumental Dutch cupboards called kasten (kast is the singular, or kas, commonly used by the English), with wide overhanging cornices, deeply beveled paneling and enormous bun-shaped feet to protect the contents from threat of damp in low-lying Holland (top). Atop each kast was an impressive garniture set of Dutch Delft earthenware. Gari Melchers brought back his own pair of seven foot high kasten (one example at bottom), and crates full of Delft, when he returned permanently to the United States in 1915.
Kasten were popularized in 17th century Netherlands when merchants, enriched by maritime trade with the East, needed tall and roomy cupboards to store valuable household items such as silver, linens, porcelain and Delft . The massive kasten were usually finished in veneered rosewood and ebony, and were produced in three sections, which must have made moving them a far easier exercise!
The distinctive blue and white earthenware of Holland (the best came out of the city of Delft) was produced in imitation of more expensive Chinese porcelains. The bodies, though made of clay, and decoration of the best of these wares were prized along with porcelain.
Melchers used the two kasten in his studio for the storage of art supplies, costumes, props and equipment, while Mrs. Melchers hoarded the best Delft and porcelain for display in the couple’s house.